All Aboard! Preston dedicates newest addition to railroad interpretive center at trailhead

SARA YORK/NEWS LEADER The official ribbon cutting for the new sign was moved inside due to the arrival of heavy rain and thunderstorms. Ila Mae Olstad, in front, cut the ribbon, representing the Milwaukee Road employees. In back, from left, are Mary Schwartz, Barb Mielke, Jon DeVries and Gabby Kinneberg.
By : 
Sara York

Rain couldn’t keep the Preston Historical Society or its supporters from attending the dedication ceremony on Sunday, June 30, for the new informational sign at the trailhead.

Preston has a rich history with the railroad, and it served mainly agricultural interests. The railroad can be dated back to 1855 with the River Valley and Southern Minnesota Railroad (RRV & SM). In late 1880, the “Milwaukee Road” gained full control. In 1916, the rail had four crews a day working along with a fire agent. In 1957, the line stopped serving passenger trains and, in the 1960s, the line had cut operation back to three days a week. It operated until 1977 when the line filed for bankruptcy and it was abandoned. Then, later in the 1980s the rail route became the Root River State Bike Trail.

Sheila Craig stated this project has been in the making for many years since Richard Hovelson, a former member of Preston Historical Society, wanted to save the depot.

The new sign is an exact replica of the original depot sign at a reduced scale of approximately 55%. The typeface is the one used by the Milwaukee Road for exterior signage at rural depots and outbuildings. The white sign and black outline are also what was used originally.

The Preston Historical Society is in possession of the original sign that was at the depot and plans to put it on display in the future. Victoria and Michael Ott donated the original sign along with a blueprint.

On hand at Sunday’s dedication was author Cecil Cook who wrote the book, “Final Days of Steam.” Cook was also signing copies of his book and had a model of a 1022 train engine, the same as one pictured in his book from Mabel.

Walter Dunlap, a rail photographer and historian, also spoke to those gathered. He is also a fourth-generation railroad lover, with his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all working for the railway. Both donated pictures and maps to be included in the sign.

Dale Montang was there to tell about his time working on the rails as the fireman of the Preston railroad. He stated that he “has fond memories” of his time on the Preston line.

Cutting the ribbon was Ila Mae Olstad, representing Milwaukee Road employees, with Gabby Kinneberg next to her, on behalf of the Preston Chamber of Commerce.

People also got to tour the 1951 caboose, which both Sheila Craig and Norma Vogt say is their favorite part of the display.

“I can remember going to Mauston, Wis., and finding the caboose buried under a tree,” stated Erik Paulson. He added, “The tree was protecting it because it was the best one of the bunch.”

Craig also said the historical society is still working on a cart to go with the motor car that will be displayed at a later date.

Barb Dornik read the names of the employees listed on the sign. One was Dave Wilson, who was the last station manager at the Preston Depot.

Flossie Schultz thanked everyone for their hard work with special thanks to Jon DeVries for all of his work and for helping Abbey Norby with the design of the sign; Ron Schroder for his carpentry skills and Sheila Craig for her leadership as president of Preston Historical Society.

Although they had to improvise by moving inside the Trailhead Inn to deal with impending storms, many attended the event to enjoy the new sign and see the rest of the interesting items the historical society has worked so hard to renovate.

The display at the trailhead can be viewed anytime. It is also lit up at night for people to see.